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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2004

S S 301 • Honors Social Science: Psychology

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39540 MWF
2:00 PM-3:00 PM
NOA 1.102

Course Description

Psychology is a discipline that is broadly concerned with the ways in which people perceive, understand and interact with the world. As such, it addresses questions that range from the micro level of perception within the eye to the macro level of social interactions among people. The SS 301 in psychology is designed to introduce students to a representative range of the topics subsumed within this discipline. We will be taking a levels-of-explanation approach, in which we will simultaneously explore the biological, environmental, and cultural aspects of each of the selected problems. We will also specifically consider the ways in which psychology investigates these problems, in terms of both methodology and epistemology. The hope is that students will leave the SS 301 with an understanding not only of what psychology studies, but also of how and why.

About the professor: Wendy Domjan has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition. As a result of her children’s experiences in high school and college, she has developed an interest in alternative approaches to teaching and is currently piloting a program to incorporate interactive learning strategies into large psychology classes, a component of which involves teaching undergraduates to act as discussion and lab leaders for small sections of the larger class. She is a committed practicing Jew, who has taught both adults and kids in her synagogue, a community activist, a passionate reader of nearly everything, and a devoted fan of all forms of science fiction (especially Star Trek!).

Grading Policy

Course requirements will consist of two in-class essay exams and a series of four short reaction papers. The exams are designed to assess the students’ acquisition and understanding of the material. The papers are designed to be a written dialogue that each student will have with me, in which the student will have the chance to expand, explore, and, in some sense, play with the material. An example is given below of what could be the first of the four papers: Paper 1: A constant tension exists in psychology between the need for experimental control and the need for ecological validity. Please discuss the nature of the implied trade-off within the context of possible differences between the natural and the social sciences. In your view, to what degree is psychology a science, and in what respects ought it to follow the lead of the natural sciences? For whatever position you take, what are the potential gains and losses? Or We have been taking an approach to psychology that involves considering multiple levels of explanation for psychological phenomena. One level that we have consistently considered is the biological. To what extent do you feel that a biological explanation provides an adequate account for a psychological phenomenon? There are a number of perspectives from which you could address this issue. For example, an analogy is often drawn between the mind/brain issue in psychology and the software/hardware issue in computer science. If you can program a computer without understanding the underlying mechanics, can you not also discuss the operation of the mind phenomenologically or metaphorically without being concerned with the instantiating neural mechanisms? Alternatively, you could consider the relationship between mechanism and experience. If we can trace the way in which color is coded from the level of the light to the level of the visual cortex, have we explained the perception of color? Or, do we need to go past the coding and explain the phenomenology: why a particular pathway leads to the perception of red? The exams will contribute 50% of the student’s final grade, 25% coming from each exam. The papers will contribute 40% of the student’s grade, each paper counting 10%. The remaining 10% will come from the student’s class participation.


Gazzaniga, M., and T. Heatherton. The Psychological Science: the Mind, the Brain and Behavior. Hock, Roger. Forty Studies that Changed Psychology. Stanovich, K. How to Think Straight about Psychology.


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